The latest quarterly Bellwether Report, which measures marketing budgets, was published on Monday. It showed that overall marketing spend had fallen - for the ninth quarter running - in Q4 2009, but with the rate of budget-trimming the slowest since Q1 2008.
More importantly, it showed that while advertising media spend fell by 6.9 per cent in the last quarter, the 'all other' category into which PR falls, saw a four per cent decline in budgets. This compared with a fall of 24.4 per cent in Q3.
The survey also indicated that marketing spend was set to improve in 2010, with preliminary data indicating that budgets have been set higher on average compared with actual spend in 2009.
Of course, not all PR spend comes under marketing, with just as much going into corporate affairs, public affairs, investor relations etc. Nevertheless, the indicators remain encouraging.
The PRCA's quarterly Trends Barometer, exclusively revealed to PRWeek on Monday, revealed a significant net increase in optimism towards the end of 2009. In the second half the year, about 34 per cent of PR agencies reported seeing an increase in client budgets, compared with about 22 per cent noting a decrease. And, looking forward, more than half expected profitability to improve further during Q1 2010, compared with Q4 2009.
So, can we finally call the end to this long recession?
In technical terms, the UK economy probably moved out of recession, into slight growth, during the final quarter of last year and will continue to grow marginally during the current quarter.
As a result, the PR industry has probably also resumed its growth curve, albeit at a much lower rate than during the period 2003-2008.
Talk to senior PR agency executives and they report a vastly improved new business pipeline. However, fees remain under severe pressure. Most also say that the market remains volatile and unpredictable; so they are cautious about predicting their budgets for more than a month or two ahead.
Like most economic and corporate indicators that fill the newspapers, there is a growing sense of optimism in the comms sector, but most agree the world has changed and we are unlikely to see the searing growth of five years ago. We are also likely to see a restructuring of the PR industry itself, of which more next week.